When soldiers in war are not properly trained and supervised, atrocities are all but inevitable. This is one reason why the military command structure is so important. There was a time, not so long ago, when commanders were expected to be accountable for the behavior of their subordinates.
That's changed. Under Commander in Chief George W. Bush, the notion of command accountability has been discarded. In Mr. Bush's world of war, it's the grunts who take the heat. Punishment is reserved for the people at the bottom. The people who foul up at the top are promoted.
We learned last week that after a high-level investigation, the Army had cleared four of the five top officers who were responsible for prison policies and operations in Iraq. The fifth officer, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski of the Army Reserve, had already been relieved of her command of the military police unit at Abu Ghraib. (She has complained, and not without reason, that she was a scapegoat for the failures of higher-ranking officers.)
This is the way atrocities are dealt with in Mr. Bush's world of war. The higher-ups responsible for training, supervising and disciplining the troops - in other words, the big shots who presided over a system that ran shamefully amok - escaped virtually unscathed.
Herbert then quotes Michael Posner who makes an important point:
"In our contemporary world, torture is like the slave trade or piracy was to people in the 1790's," said Michael Posner, executive director of Human Rights First, which is suing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over the prisoner abuse issue. "Torture is a crime against mankind, against humanity. It's something that has to be absolutely prohibited."
I hope Posner's lawsuit is publicized. It will be truly critical for our national conscience to see how the issue plays out in court. But I'm not optimistic.